You Can Still Take This 120-Year-Old Coast-to-Coast Road Trip

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A road trip isn’t just about getting to your final destination but enjoying the adventure along the way. Stopping at the roadside attractions, playing games in the car, and taking photos at beautiful overlooks are all part of the drive.

You may have wondered how road-tripping began. The idea of traveling long distances by car is actually over 120 years old! Let’s look at the very first coast-to-coast road trip, and perhaps you’ll decide to make the same journey one day!

When Was the First Cross-Country Road Trip?

In 1903, Horatio Jackson bet $50 that he could travel across America in his car. Remember, this was long before the peak of automobile development. It wasn’t until the 1930s that steam-powered road vehicles really became efficient.

So this was quite a bet placed by the Vermont doctor, especially since he didn’t own a car and had minimal driving experience. Luckily, he invited driver and mechanic Sewall Crocker to join him on the adventure.

They set out on May 23, 1903, from San Fransisco. Sixty-three days later, the duo (and a dog) arrived in New York City to complete the first-ever cross-country road trip.

Who Was Horatio Jackson and Sewall Crocker?

Horatio Jackson was a Vermont doctor who had taken an interest in the growing automobile industry.

He became an enthusiast, unlike others who thought the horseless carriage was just a fad. Dr. Jackson came from a prominent Vermont family that included a mayor and lieutenant governor.

Sewall Crocker was a driver and mechanic from Washington State. Dr. Jackson enlisted his help in San Francisco. Crocker gave the doctor driving lessons and encouraged him to purchase a Winton for the journey.

Unfortunately, Crocker didn’t live very long to enjoy his fame. He died in Washington about 10 years after completing the coast-to-coast journey.

What Car Did They Take Across America?

Crocker advised Dr. Jackson to purchase a 1903 Winton — a two-cylinder, 20-horsepower touring car nicknamed “The Vermont.”

Winton Motor Carriage Company, an automobile manufacturer based in Cleveland, Ohio, was one of the first American companies to sell a motor car. It later became one of the first manufacturers of diesel engines.

Today, you’ll find the 1903 Winton on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Although there are likenesses of Dr. Jackson and his dog, Bud, sadly, Mr. Crocker was left out of the Smithsonian’s exhibit.

What Challenges Did They Encounter?

Dr. Jackson and Crocker faced serious challenges throughout their coast-to-coast adventure. First, they traveled without road signs or maps at that time. They got lost often. 

Second, the whole country only had 150 miles of paved roads in 1903. This meant the duo had to venture miles and miles off-course to find suitable routes to travel. They would even have to hoist the Winton over rocky terrain.

Because of the terrible road conditions, Dr. Jackson and Cocker blew a tire in just the first 15 miles of the journey. Before they left the Pacific Coast, they blew more tires and had to wind rope around the wheels.

Along the way, they had to wire money to Winton Motor Carriage Company and have parts and supplies delivered.

Fuel stations were few and far between. They would have to walk to find gasoline or oil. But one of the bright spots in their coast-to-coast road trip was finding Bud the bulldog in Idaho. He became their traveling companion and lived with Dr. Jackson once the duo reached the East Coast.

Pro Tip: Before you go on your first cross country RV trip, check out these 5 tips!

What Coast-to-Coast Route Did They Take?

As already mentioned, the duo started in San Francisco on May 23, 1903. They traveled up the Pacific Coastline, following the railroad up to Oregon. Although this wasn’t the quickest way across the country, they hoped to avoid Nevada’s desert sands and high mountains.

They turned east into Idaho and crossed into Wyoming, where they lost their way and their money and went without food for 36 hours outside Cheyenne. But they continued to press on and made their way through Nebraska and Iowa.

Once they reached the Mississippi River, you can imagine how elated Dr. Jackson was to be back East. Here, the journey became more manageable because of the better road system.

The last part of their journey included northern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio and on into New York, where they finally reached the city on July 26, 1903. The two-month road trip 120 years ago now takes 43 hours if traveling the fastest route in modern cars and on modern roads.

How Many Other Cross-Country Road Trips Were Completed in 1903?

After Dr. Jackson and Mr. Crocker completed their 63-day adventure, others wanted to try their hand at a cross-country journey.

Before the duo arrived in New York City, another pair — E.T. “Tom” Fetch and M.C. Krarup — set out from San Francisco. They arrived in 61 days, two days faster than the first.

A third pair, Lester Whitman and Eugene Hammond, made their cross-country road trip in 73 days the same year. But in 1904, Lester Whitman decided to try again with a new partner, Charles Carris. They set a record at the time by driving from San Francisco to New York in just under 33 days.

Keep in Mind: Amp up your road trip playlist with these 15 Country Songs!

Can You Still Take the Same Coast to Coast Route Today?

US-20 covers over 3,300 miles of the United States from Oregon to Massachusetts. Although this isn’t the exact route Dr. Jackson and Mr. Crocker took, it’s pretty close. Nicknamed “Big Daddy” because it’s the longest road in America, US-20 travels through remote mountains and urban cities.

You can stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument, drive through Yellowstone National Park, visit Chicago, or stop in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Although Route 66 may be the most popular and nostalgic, US-20 is well worth the drive. 

If you drive the whole route, it’ll take close to 60 hours. Two and a half days is quite different from the two months it took Dr. Jackson, Mr. Crocker, and Bud the bulldog in 1903.

Will you take a cross-country road trip along US-20 any time soon?

1 comment
  1. Yes. I go from Chicago area -/ Wis state line to Phoenix several times. I call it my road trip. & 1,500 miles @ 32 hrs going there. I need rest at 67 yrs old.

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